Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 6 – Norway, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Switzerland, The Netherlands + Russia

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

NORWAY: “Grab the Moment” by JOWST

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Norway flag

 

THE ARTIST
To be honest, crowdsourcing is the not the first thing that leaps to mind when you think of taking part in Eurovision.

But that is exactly what sound engineer, producer and teacher (and rampant multitasker) JOWST aka Joakim With Steen did when he was chosen to represent Norway.

Taking his abiding interest in punk rock and songwriting, JOWST gave his friends input via a Facebook group into the creation of his song “Grab the Moment”, the vocals for which are provided by Aleksander Walmann who, it seems, crowdsourced not a damn thing, concentrating instead on singing up a storm on The Voice (2012), and working with other Norwegian artists such as Sondre Lerche.

The question after all this checking and counter-checking with those nearest and dearest to him is whether this “it takes a village” approach has resulted in the kind of song that will reward JOWST’s continued quest to push himself?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Astonishingly yes.

I am not usually a fan of creativity by committee but in this instance, it’s worked a treat with “Grab the Moment” which comes across as a wholly engaging, fun jaunty number that bounces with the sort of irrepressible zest that will leave a smile on your face.

There are some tasty vocal flourishes all the way through courtesy of Aleksander and a whole lot of distorted, building buzz through the bridge which adds a little extra frission to a song which, while not out-of-the-box extraordinary, is definitely memorable, hummable and as danceable as they come.

Throw in a catchy stage performance and this could give Norway a real shot of making it to the grand final (although I suspect the song may not quite robust enough to garner a win).

 

 

ROMANIA: “Yodel It!” by Ilinca ft. Alex Florea

 

 

THE ARTIST
Ilinca and Alex, both of whom come from fairly impressive musical backgrounds, are by their own submission, “happy people”.

And why wouldn’t they be? They love music, have fun singing and performing and they have both been given invaluable opportunities to do something with their talent.

While Ilinca has found musical fame through programs like X Factor (she was part of a four piece girl band at the tender age of 14) and The Voice of Romania, where she reached the semi finals thank you very much, Alex has studied at music schools, first at the Popular Arts School and then at the Faculty of Fine Arts (Theatre) where he is completing a Masters.

They may have taken completely different routes to arrive at the point where they’re Romania’s entrants at Eurovision this year, but the end result is one full of ‘good energy”, “positive vibes” and “the sheer joy of being on stage”.

But will all this blissful bonhomie, the cumulative effect of which makes Tony Robbins look like Eeyore on a bad day, be enough to make the people of Europe vote for the perky Romanians en masse?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
At first blush, you may not think so, especially when you discover that Ilinca is a yodeler, a skill which to be honest isn’t exactly the hippest of sounds around.

The funny thing is “Yodel it!” (yeah OK that also gives the game away) is a ridiculous amount of fun.

It’s not necessarily the sort of song that will win the contest, and it is pretty cheesy, but damn if it isn’t a barnburning, backslapping piece of silly, catchy ridiculousness that somehow works.

Not enough to get them out of the second semi final, but won’t we have fun yodelling ourselves through one of the few songs in this year’s roster that actually has some personality and a willingness to go there.

Granted, “there” is not the winner’s podium, but who the hell cares – well beside Ilinca and Alex who probably care a bit – when the journey is so much over the top, bombastic fun?

 

 

SAN MARINO: “Spirit of the Night” by Valentina Monetta and Jimmie Wilson

 

Road to Eurovision 2016 week 3 San Marino flag

 

THE ARTIST
Valentina Monetta’s bio trumpets the fact from the glitter-saturated rafters that she is back!

But really when you’ve represented your country three times already (2012, 2013, 2014), can you really be considered to have actually gone away?

The jazz and funk singer, who has worked with a wide variety of musicians in Italy and Europe, and is currently performing with her band, Myfunky Valetine, has represented San Marino 50% of the time since they first competed in 2008 (they missed 2009 and 2010); this time, however, shas teamed up woth Jimmie Wilson, an American living in Germany, who is best known for performing in a series of musicals including Michael Jackson’s Sisterella.

So Valentina is back, Jimmie is here for the first time but together will they deliver that magic x factor that could catapult San Marino into the grand final and beyond, and justify Vanetina’s near constant state of Eurovision-ness?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
“Spirit of the Night” may not be the song to do it.

Sure it’s brimming with a bright, shiny retro ’70s vibe, that is equal parts cheesy disco and sultry Barry White R&B, and both Monetta and Wilson seem to be having a ball, but somehow it all comes together in a song that sounds like it’s trying really hard and getting absolutely nowhere.

There’s lots of colour and movement but it ultimately sounds tinny and hollow, with the chorus particularly leaching out the glittering promise, such as it is, of the verses.

It’s as cliched and been there, done that as they come and will likely sink like a stone, marking yet another time San Marino has failed to qualify for the grand final.

 

 

SERBIA: “In Too Deep” by Tijana Bogićević

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Serbia flag

 

THE ARTIST
Tijana may have once had a touch of Twenty Feet From Stardom syndrome – she started out as a backing vocalist for Vlado Georgiev back in 2001 – but she has now well and truly found her place at the front of the stage thanks to her massive 2010 breakout hit “Tražim (Searching)”.

With the spotlight firmly fixed on the woman who, by all accounts, displayed an aptitude for music from a young age, she has participated in several TV talent show, dueted up a storm with the band Flamingosi and Aleksa Jelić and even has an album of her own coming the world’s way in the northern autumn.

Take that backstage anomymity!

Well, apart from performing as a backing vocalist for Serbia’s 2001 entrant Nina and her song “Čaroban (Magical)”, a momentary backward step that gave her the “invaluable experience” to make her own mark on the contest in Kyiv this year.

But is “In Too Deep”, which is perhaps not the song title you want bandied about when you’re realising a long held dream to represent your country on your terms, the song to make Eurovision wishes comes true?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Things kick off promisingly with a quirky musical introduction, an insistent melodic refrain that threatens to head off into some very interesting territory indeed.

Ha! More fool you. Rather than heading into trippy, funky electronica territory, the song opts for slightly interesting, occasionally beat-driven power ballad territory, a song that comes with some emotional resonance and musical intensity but nothing that, in the end, you haven’t heard a thousand times before.

It is, like a number of other songs in the contest, not a bad song per se, and Tijana certainly pours every last drop of her impressive vocal ability into bring it to life, but it’s ultimately the sort of musical number whose impact disipates almost immediately upon completion.

It could very well carry Serbia to the grand final but don’t go packing your bags for Belgrade 2018 just yet, if at all.

 

 

SWITZERLAND: “Apollo” by Timebelle

 

Road to Eurovision Week 6 Switzerland flag

 

THE ARTIST
Timebelle are a group with great expectations for their participation in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

The Swiss group, made up of avowed chocolate lover and Romania actress and musician & singer Miruna Manescu, charming pianist, saxophonist and clarinetist Emanual Daniel Andriescu and boundlessly energetic drummer Samuel Forster, are aiming to express their “hopes and dreams”, yes all of them, through their song “Apollo”.

One of those hopes is that their entry celebrate the diversity of modern Europe, a hot button topic not just for the band who hail from other parts of Europe but have found a longterm home in Switzerland, but for everyone in an age when divisiveness and close minded rancour are trying to silence the voices of inclusion and respect.

You can only hope they achieve that goal in Kyiv, where peace, love and understanding haven’t exactly been the order of the day of late.

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
If they do fulfill their lofty aspirations, it will not be because of “Apollo”, a pity since it is the main reason they’re in the contest at all.

It is sweetly earnest, violence lyrical allusions notwithstanding which are no doubt intended to lend powerful emotional resonance to the song but carry a weirdly atonal vibe, helped along by Manescu”s robustly beautiful voice.

The chorus is uplifting and you can understand that the songwriters Elias Näslin, Alessandra Günthardt, Nicolas Günthardt have likely poured their heart and soul into this meaningful song.

But pretty does not always equate to impactful and frankly the song too often veers into emo-heavy adult midtempo rock ballad territory, pleasant enough to listen to but nowhere near as worthy as its writers and singers intend it to be.

 

 

THE NETHERLANDS: “Lights and Shadows” by OG3NE

 

Road to Eurovision week 3 The Netherlands flag

 

THE ARTIST
Sisters are doing for themselves if OG3NE, which “represents their mother’s blood type O and the genes that tie the three sisters together” – we’ll leave you to grapple with the pronunciation – are any indication.

Made up of Lisa (22) and twins Amy and Shelley (21), the family are incredibly musical and very close, their bonds solidified by their mother’s ongoing serious illness, the struggle of living with which has created a deep desire to take of and support each other.

It could be all that togetherness, and the polyphonous blending of their voices, that lends the trio, who were the first group to win The Voice anywhere in the world, the sort of success they’ve enjoyed since they burst onto the scene in 2016.

But is their tightness as family and artists enough to propel them, and their song “Lights and Shadows”, written by their father with Shelley’s boyfriend about the effect their mother’s illness has had on the family, enough to give them a Eurovision happily ever after?

 

(image courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
As a sucker for happy endings, whatever the circumstances, I really wish that was the case.

While there is an appealing Wilson Phillips circa 1990 sound and feel to the song, recalling the lofty heights of the group’s megahit “Hold On”, and Og3NE’s voice seamlessly and appealingly blend together in almost angelic fashion, it’s not the sort of song that’s going to cut through at Eurovision.

A pleasant and uplifting time will be had by everyone in the audience, and there’s no denying the lyrical substance of the song, but it’s hard this getting The Netherlands to the grand final.

The great wildcard in all this of course could be a devastatingly good live performance which the group seem more than capable of; if that happens, then all bets are off.

 

My semi final 2 top ten which, as always, is a mix of songs I like and songs that, personal preference aside, could do very well if performed just right on the night. (These are in no particular order).
1. Israel
2. The Netherlands
3. Austria
4. F.Y.R. Maceonia
5. Malta
6. Hungary
7. Lithuania
8. Switzerland
9. Romania
10. Estonia

 

RUSSIA: “Flame is Burning” by Julia Samoylova

 

Road to Eurovision 2016 week 3 Russia flag

 

Russia will not compete in Eurovision this year.

It was supposed to, and had even gone so far as to select Yulia Samoylova who was going to sing the song “Flame is Burning”. But Yulia fell foul of a Ukrainian law which expressly forbids artists who have performed in Crimea, now occupied by Russia but which Ukraine continues to maintain, with the backing of international law, as an inalienable part of its sovereign territory, to enter Ukraine to perform. Ukraine’s refusal to allow Samoylova into the country has, after considerable acrimonious back-and-forth between the two countries, with added intervention by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) which oversees Eurovision, led to Russia withdrawing from the contest completely, with no plans to even screen the event (a decision which could result in an EBU ban on the country being allowed to perform in the contest in 2018).

Whether you believe the Ukraine is being needlessly intransigent or Russia is being pointlessly antagonistic (Ukraine’s law was well-publicised), the fact remains that the 43 contestants of this year’s contest are down to 42, not an earthshaking development you may think numbers-wise but certainly one that has shaken many peoples’ idealistic view (in my view, overly idealistic; Eurovision will never escape geopolitical instability in some form or another) of the contest as a bastion of peace and togetherness in a fractious, divided world.

For more on the story, please go to Wiwibloggs, BBC, The Guardian and SBS.

 

Weekend pop art: Exquisitely-rendered models of TV show sets

(image via Mashable (c) Drawbotics)

 

There are times, many times in fact if you’re a regular devoted viewer of a particular TV show that you feel like you’re living in the show with the characters.

Granted some people take this a little too far, getting to the point, where they believe the characters and the world they inhabit are real, but for most of us, it’s enough to spend time immersing ourselves in shows that provide a welcome from our, sometimes trying, realities.

But what, wondered Drawbotics, if you could recreate, in brilliantly-detailed floor plans, the settings for shows we love like Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, Silicon Valley and a slew of others – what would you include in them, what would they look and feel like and would they answer that feeling of what it would be like to disappear into the show and be one of their characters.

Their wondering has paid off in spades with a series of wondrous recreations that illustrate what happens when you don’t just binge the TV shows but bring them to life in your own thoroughly unique, highly-creative way.

For the full story, go to Mashable.

 

(image via Mashable (c) Drawbotics)

 

(image via Mashable (c) Drawbotics)

 

(image via Mashable (c) Drawbotics)

 

(image via Mashable (c) Drawbotics)

Love, business and friendship: Thoughts on Grace and Frankie (season 3, eps 1-4)

 

One of the great delights of Grace and Frankie from the very start has been the wonderful friendship between the two titular characters that underpins the entire show.

In contrast to many other sitcoms that present friendships with all the depth of a shallow Petri dish, with about as much inherent angst, Grace and Frankie has always given us two very real people, polar opposites who are forced into involuntary close company when their husbands, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston) come out as gay and as lovers in what has to count as one of the worst joint date nights ever.

While Robert and Sol can finally be free about their hithero hidden love affair of 20 years standing, Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) are understandably devastated, 40 years of marriage apiece effectively rendered a lie, the fabric of their day to day lives ripped unceremoniously asunder.

With no other choice than to move into the beach house that the two then couples bought together, they must negotiate some sort of workable relationship, a task made all the more challenging by their utterly divergent personalities and approaches to life.

Grace is the ultimate society pin up gal, a country club luncher who is always fashionably dressed, at all the right functions and seen with all the right people; Frankie, by contrast, is a quintessential hippie chick, free and easy with her opinions, prone to one too many “too much information” divulges (particularly regarding sex) and extravagantly emotional and artistic.

Coming together then, while precipitated by events beyond their control, a challenge that neither is especially enthusiastic about at first, but which slowly and organically takes place as each negotiates a new life that features none of the certainties of the old.

Refreshingly, rather than making their coming together as steadfast friends, which is exactly what they become, a trite and inauthentic development, the show’s creators Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris have gone to great pains over the last two seasons to show how hard it can be not just forging a new life, but doing it in close proximity with someone you previously had no friendship with.

It’s not even remotely easy, and Grace and Frankie has hilariously and yet with great sensitivity and insight, made this crystal clear, fully admitting that this sort of wholesale life change would be a challenge at any stage of a person’s life but particularly when you’re in your ’70s and getting ready to settle into a hoped-for comfortable old age.

 

 

Season 3 picks up in the wake of Grace and Frankie’s joint decision, after a great many shared and individual ups and downs, to independently their own distinct paths, one that disentangles itself as completely as practical from their ex-husbands.

Part of that decision to completely go it alone – although given the closeness of the two families over the years, a clean break simply isn’t realistic, especially with the couple’s four children, the standout of which is acerbic but heartfelt “maneater” Brianna (June Diane Raphael), still so closely intertwined – manifests itself in a new company the two women launch to produce vibrators for the older female adult.

While good for some fairly obvious laughs, some of which are entertained, Grace and Frankie chooses instead to concentrate on real substantive issues such as older women and their access to financial banking (banks, we find out, in the first episode, are ageist to the hilt), their sexuality and forging an identity as a single person after a life time as one half of a partnership.

As you might expect from a show that is as realistic as it is funny, it’s often a case of one step forward, quite a few back, as the two women grappled with bumps in the smooth path of their friendship, some of which can look almost irreparable (Grace says she doesn’t have a gun when they’re robbed, Frankie believes her and is horrified when the firearm is produced during what’s assumed to be a repeat break-in at the house), new relationships, career choices and relating to ex-husbands and children when all the older paradigms that once governed them have been well and truly blown to smithereens.

The show may be largely played for laughs but this is intelligent, character-driven comedy, where the oneliners aren’t the drivers of the comedy but rather in service to nuanced, well-articulated character interactions that are as serious as they are funny at times.

 

 

Much like Frasier, which always drew its longlasting comedic strength from its finely-wrought characters,  Grace and Frankie milks situations such as mistakenly promoting their vibrators to a women’s bible study group, a robbery at the house and the perils and rewards of starting a business when most people are booking sedate river cruises in Europe or agonising over which bowls club to join.

That is why the show, which has just been renewed for a fourth, very much welcomed season, works so well and is so rewarding to watch.

It openly accepts the fact that life very rarely fit the standard tropes and routinely defies expectations, and that if you’re going to portray it, particularly for two older women who find themselves with their hands full of a thousand different complications they never thought would be theirs to handle, you better recognise that essential truth upfront.

Without that sage recognition, Grace and Frankie would be just another brainless show about ageing, playing the concept for cheap laughs and ill-placed oneliners with all the longevity of a wispy trail of vapour.

Instead it’s vital and alive, rife with all kinds of pithy, funny, true observations about life, which anyone of any age can relate to, but which are especially relevant to people entering, or in, the later stages of their life.

Yes, Grace and Frankie are joyous characters to watch and spend time with, and come what may, you always walk away from an episode, or this being Netflix where one episode at a time is never enough, with a smile on your face; but far more than that, they are rich, three dimensional characters who matter, whose lives have substance and resonance and whose are funny only because much of what they go through rings wryly true.

They are thoroughly, delightfully unique true, but they are also everywoman, the standard bearers for every woman who has found herself cast adrift by the whims and vagaries of husbands moving on to the next big thing without them, and it’s because they are so real and so authentically-detailed, that Grace and Frankie works and has much of its considerable appeal.

Season 3 continues all the good work of the previous two seasons, while doing an admirable of pushing events in these two remarkable women’s lives forward, always reminding us that no matter how tough the future may look, that a whole lot of tenacity and more importantly friendship goes a long way in making the impossible seem not just doable but a great deal of fun and emotionally rewarding into the bargain.

 

Cheese Trouble: The glorious fun of Wallace & Gromit meeting the Minions

(image via Vimeo (c) Fabrice Mathieu)

 

As fun, whimsical calling cards go, they don’t come much better than director and editor Fabrice Mathieu‘s seamless editing together of Aardman Animation’s Wallace and Gromit, and Illumination Entertainment’s Minions.

In his delightful mash-up Cheese Trouble, the Minions forgo their usual food of choice, bananas!, in favour of cheese which naturally puts them into competition with Wallace and Gromit, in whose household cheese is, most assuredly, king, queen and every other hierarchical ruling personage.

Stitching together footage from a number of films featuring the two sets of characters – the full list is available at the end of the short film and via Film School Rejects – and music drawn from The Wrong Trousers and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Julian Nott) and The Trouble With Harry (Bernard Herrmann), Mathieu has crafted a delightfully amusing short animated special that plays to the strengths of both sets of characters, a sum that is appreciably greater than its cobbled-together parts.

Not to mention an intense craving for cheese …

 

Movie review: Voyage to Greenland (Le Voyage au Groenland)

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

Much as we like to think we can push and pummel life to fit our preconceived notions, the truth is it has an often perverse way of defying our expectations.

Try as we might, and many of us try pretty hard, usually in our youth when possibilities seem endless and limitations few, the gulf between where we are and where we thought we would be widens to the point where we either accept equanimously that this is the way of things, fight back, or as is the case with Thomas (Thomas Blanchard) and Thomas (Thomas Scimeca), sit somewhere awkwardly inbetween.

Both underemployed actors from Paris who get enough work to continue receiving their social security but not much more, the two friends of ten years standing are in their thirties, butting their heads against stymied career goals, romantic inertia and a general sense that life has shrunk to nothing and passed them by.

Thomas B – initials seem the easiest way to describe the men who are alike in name only – is the least adventurous of the two, a careful soul who restricts his life to an ever decreasing radius, both geographical and aspirational, and who may, or may not be, he is equivocal at best, on this point, in a relationship with the unseen Lisa.

He is convinced by the far more garrulous Thomas S, a man who disagrees with everything he reads and sees but who will give anything a go once (thin raw seal liver for one) to travel to the remote village of Kullorsuaq, an inuit settlement perched on the side of a hill that, at the time of their visit, and you suspect much of the time, is held firmly in the grip of eternal cold and daylight.

It may seem like a quirky place to spend a few weeks, but Thomas B’s father Nathan (François Chattot) has lived here for 20 years (he is far more apt to try new things and go new places than his more conservative son with whom he is not especially close) and now is as good a time as any, reasons Thomas S, to spread their truncated wings and see what lies beyond their increasingly small world in Paris.

 

(image courtesy Netflix)

 

This may sound like the set up for an intense drama of self-realisation, great familial changes and the kind of revelatory insight that only a complete change of location can engender, but the truth is that Voyage to Greenland, as prosaic as title as its charmingly uneventful narrative, written and directed by Sébastien Betbeder, is the sort of film where life rarely loosens its pre-arranged stranglehold of been-there, done-that.

It’s oddly perverse given that Kullorsuaq, a town both deeply traditional, where seal and polar bear hunting, usually by the taciturn Martika (Martin Jensen), and riven by incipient change driven by the internet which has shown the youth of the town such as Nukannguaq (Benedikte Eliassen) that there is more to life than the life of their forebears, is a million miles away from the dual Thomases world of failed casting calls and half-baked romance.

But the reality is you can’t really run from yourself – an apt way of describing things given the two friends propensity, driven naturally by Thomas S, for jogging in their heavy parkas across the snowy landscape in an attempt to get fit (to the amusement of the locals) – nor life’s rut-shaped track, and the film ends with neither man having gone through anything like a road to Damascus moment.

That, however, is not really the point.

The trip to see Nathan, which follows the visit of Ole (Ole Eliassen) and Adam (Adam Eskilden) to Paris some years earlier, though replete with community dances where raw seal liver, not alcohol is available in great profusion, and trips to hunt for traditional food such as seals, is really business as usual for the two men who try to push the boundaries of their lives out a little but without any real enthusiasm.

Thomas S, at least tries to sweet talk quiet Nukannguaq into pursuing a holiday romance, but for the most part the friends read, chill and look on askance, though with warmth and a willingness to take part, at the activities of the village.

Nathan may have found his true place of being far away from his old life in Paris, but he is a unique man (harbouring, by the way, some sort of ailment which neither he nor his son, who admits his family is emotionally shutdown, seem inclined to discuss fully or at all) and as the film meanders on its pleasingly-chilled (literal and otherwise) way, you begin to realise that neither Thomas will find themselves experiencing any kind of epiphany here.

 

(image courtesy Unifrance)

 

Rather, Voyage to Greenland, which begins and ends with helicopter flights, the only way into and out of the remote location, is all about life and its often unnoticed small changes taking place in the quiet moments.

It’s exemplified most beautifully and with much more emotional impact that the exchange itself suggests in the final conversation between father and son where Nathan, as ever unable to fully express exactly how he feels in open and robust terms, suggests to Thomas B that it might be nice if they stay in touch.

In turn, his son, reluctant to leave his father when he’s not sure the man he’s got to know somewhat better over the last few weeks will be there when he returns, if he returns which honestly seems unlikely, asks him to do the same.

It’s a quiet plea to stay close that barely breaks the ice (pun intended) of the relationship between the two but it heralds that while not much may changed outwardly, that there has been a welcome shift of sorts between the two men, the kind of outwardly unseen but inwardly vital change that life is rife with if you are inclined to pay it some notice.

Quiet and filmed with a documentary-style aloofness than is nevertheless charming and emotionally-involving, Voyage to Greenland, does have some sweet moments of humour such as the entire village, or near enough, turns out to see the two Thomases try to get a dial-up connection to the outside world so they can provide their monthly earnings to social security.

It’s adorably funny, a rare moment of goofy levity in a film which is neither grimly realistic nor slapstick silly – there are no great dramatic nadirs nor sequences played for easy laughs, underscoring how nuanced and thoughtful the screenplay is at all times – but absolutely on point about the way we, and the lives, we lead can change even if, at first glance, not much seems to have changed at all.

 

Daria is back! And as feisty and authentic as ever

(image via EW)

 

I love Daria.

Granted while she was on TV in the ’90s into the Noughties, I was not exactly the core demographic – I was *cough* 32-37 at the time – but there was something about daria’s disdain for the superficial established order and the way she masterfully handled the insipid stupidity of the unthinking world around her, that really struck a chord with me.

As someone who endured a great deal of bullying at high school and who struggled to rise above it and respond to it in a way that was meaningful and reasserted who I was, I admired her ability to stick to all the detractors, naysayers and fools and to defend her well-defined sense of identity. (It took me considerably longer to get to the point where I knew innately who I was and was able to coherently and strongly articulate and defend it to all comers.)

 

 

So it thrills me immensely that Daria hasn’t lost her strong sense of self nor willingness to stand up for herself as time has passed with a new video from series co-creator Susie Lewis and character designer Karen Disher, which gives us updates on Daria Morgendorffer, her bestie Jane and the rest of the quirky, real-to-life characters from the show.

It’s fun, informative and reassuring that much has changed and yet not much too – that’s the way of life for most of us right? – and makes us wish that Daria: The Sequel could totally be a thing.

We’re not alone with EW, who featured the video, noting that that Lewis said “she’d love to bring Daria back to TV.”

Bring it on! I mean, you know, whatever …

Book review: Jean Harley Was Here by Heather Taylor Johnson

(image courtesy UQP)

 

It’s often not until someone dies that you truly come to understand how deeply connected they were to a whole host of people, all of whom deal with the grief of their loss in their own unique ways.

It happened to me last year when my dad died from a longstanding illness – even as I type those words, in common with anyone who has lost someone close to them, I can’t believe he’s actually dead and I’d give anything for him to be alive outside me as well as inside me (read the book and that will make sense) and as I read Heather Taylor Johnson’s extraordinarily insightful, poignantly well-written book, Jean Harley Was Here, everything I felt when he died came rushing back to me.

That may sound like a bad thing but when you’re in the afterwash of grief, which never really leaves you, just diminishes in daily intensity (somewhat), having someone articulate grief and loss so beautifully and profoundly is actually quite therapeutic.

It gives you the sense that here is someone who understands, who gets it, but even more than that, is able to articulate what that feels like in a way that is immediately accessible and meaningful, and in many ways, groundedly poetic.

“Instead, he [Stan] listened for noise, heard a muffled voice in his son’s room. As he stood in the doorway, he watched his mother read to Orion and tried to remember her reading to him as a boy. He couldn’t. He couldn’t remember so he closed his eyes and imagined it was Jean reading – Jean with her singsong words, shifting from high to low tones as she told stories to their son. Later, Orion would tell he story to Stan that he, his father. who had taught him the riffs of his guitar but it was his mother, Jean, who had taught him rhythm. (P. 19)

Of course, in the case of Jean Harley Was Here, the person most affected by her death is someone who is almost too young at the time of her untimely passing to fully understand what he has lost.

Young Orion, only four when his American-born mother Jean is killed after being knocked from her bike by a thoughtlessly-opened car door into the path of a van in the wrong place at the wrong time, has memories of her playing the animal game with him, and some other snippets here and there, but by and large his memories exist in the letters sent to him by his mother’s friends, and by his Aussie dad Stan, who does his best to keep the memory of the love of his life alive for their son.

As the book opens up and the people close to her have their stories told in flashback, during the period when Jean is lying in hospital in a coma, and in the days, months and years after her death, you come to appreciate how deeply interconnected we all are, and how that comes to matter a great deal to those left behind, especially someone like Orion who  largely only has the memories of other to hold on to.

Taylor Johnson does a magnificent of weaving the stories of Stan, Orion, Jean’s best friends Neddy and Viv, and the man in the van, Charley, together in ways that make you appreciate once again how profoundly we are all intertwined, even if we are not immediately aware of it.

 

(Artwork courtesy UQP)

 

It’s the discovery of these emotional entanglements, some of which survive the death of the person in question, and some of which do not, that helps give a sense of proportion to how great a loss their death is.

I mean, we all know that their death is a massive, incalculable loss – that is, of course, never in dispute and we are reminder every single day in ways large and small – but sometimes it all feels amorphous and sad, too big and abstract and overwhelming to even begin grappling with.

You could argue that maybe we don’t need to struggle with quantifying how much of a loss someone is since something like grief exists and affects you ceaselessly, irregardless of the size of it (for those doing the grieving it feels enormous anyway) but somehow we need to, are driven to, striving in some way to make the immeasurable, the unfathomable into something we can possibly see all around and understand.

It may be a fool’s errand and ultimately impossible to fulfill, but as Jean Harley Was Here, illustrates with the power of shared stories and experience, we have to do in some way, hoping we can move on in life and properly honour the person in everything we do.

“He (Charley) was confused. He didn’t know how he was supposed to feel so he just let sadness wash over him. It was so sad that he only had his mum on the inside because he wanted her on the outside too, and it was so sad that Charley didn’t have his mum on the outside either, and not only that but he didn’t even have a dad.” (P. 238)

Ultimately, a person’s death isn’t knowable or able to be fully processed, and pretty much everyone in the book knows it, including most touchingly and eloquently Charley himself who struggles to comprehend how he can live with what he has done, even if it was a tragic accident, but that doesn’t stop them trying.

There is one chapter towards the end of the book when three unlikely people, all affected in tremendously life altering ways by Jean’s death end up in a pub, first awkwardly, then united by shared grief and loss and then by a temporary friendship which doesn’t survive the night but which means the world to them while it exists in their bubble of connectedness and remembrance.

It beautifully demonstrates how a person’s death ripples from those in the immediate family – Stan and Orion must live with Jean’s loss every single day, an inescapable fact of living – right through their network of friends and acquaintances, eventually touching the most unlikely of people.

Because of that great, inescapable truth and the way those connections help you deal with someone’s death (and yet not, all at the same time), Jean Harley Was Here, is a vitally important book and a wonderful, immensely affecting read that will have you crying, smiling and reminded once again of how the death of someone you love is a shared grief and the only way to properly understand and deal with it, and to remember their indelible presence in your life, is in those networks of interconnectedness that, life willing, persist long after the tragic moment of loss.

Get ready to get deliciously grumpy with The Real Grouches of Sesame Street

(image courtesy Sesame Workshop)

 

I am not a fan of reality TV shows.

Apart from a couple of outliers such Survivor and Amazing Race, I generally prefer my drama scripted, well-acted and as unmelodramatic as possible.

Which it won’t surprise you to learn rules out watching the mega franchise The Real Housewives, which has spawned so many variants that it’s hard to think of a city without its ow band of over-documented upper middle class women.

Even so, there was no way on earth that I could pass up the chance to see Sesame Street‘s delightful parody of The Real Housewives featuring Oscar, Grunggetta, the viva-esque GarbageDump (complete with obligatory toy dog) and sweet, innocent Grover (my favourite Sesame Street muppet) who as you can imagine doesn’t fit with these hilariously grumpy, rich malcontents.

As with any parody from the best TV educators on the planet, there are some great lessons to learn while you are dismissing the mouldy offerings at the FUR Lounge or taking part in the Annual Grouch Talent Show.

It’s funny, sweet, and as with all Sesame Street parodies, enormously clever and entertaining.

So have dahling and enjoy slumming it with the very that grouchiness has to offer.

(source: Mashable)

 

 

 

Road to Eurovision 2017: Week 5 – F.Y.R. Macedonia, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Lithuania, Malta

(logo courtesy Eurovision.tv)

 

What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Started way back in 1956 as a way of drawing a fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music, the Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson – the contest is telecast in both English and French – is open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition.

Each country is permitted to submit one song to the contest – a song which is selected by a variety of means, usually a winner-takes-all competition such as Sweden’s renowned Melodifestivalen – which they perform in one of two semi-finals in the hopes of making it to the glittering grand final.

Only six countries have direct entry into the grand final:
* The Big Four who fund most of the contest – UK, Germany, France and Spain
* The host country (which is the winner of the previous year’s contest)
* Italy, who didn’t take part for many years and was re-admitted in 2011 after a 14 year absence (it was one of seven countries that competed in the first event), making the Big Four the Big Five.

The winner is chosen by a 50/50 mix of viewer votes (you cannot vote for your own country) and a jury of music industry professionals in each country, a method which was chosen to counter the alleged skewing of votes based on political and/or cultural lines when voting was purely the preserve of viewers at home.

Past winners include, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.

Above all though, the Eurovision Song Contest is bright, over the top and deliciously camp, a celebration of music, inclusiveness and togetherness that draws annual viewing figures in the hundreds of millions.

This year’s contest will be held in Kyiv, Ukraine.

 

F.Y.R. Macedonia: “Dance Alone” by Jana Burčeska

 


THE ARTIST

If you were looking for the perfect person to represent F.Y.R. Macedonia at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, would you (a) pick someone who has done push ups with Batman on Brooklyn Bridge in New York or (b) can rap better than anyone you know or (c) can fluently pronounce the German word Aufmerksamkeitsdefizitmedikamentenbeipackzettel?

Happily in the case of Jana Burčeska, your decision is an easy one since this artist, who rose to prominence on Macedonian Idol in 2011, can do all three!

Talk about your ultimate multitasker; not only can she do all that, but she can sing and perform like nobody’s business, which is rather handy when you think about it because she is appearing in a singing contest.

Thrilled to be representing Macedonia, Jana, who is also a UN Ambassador who promotes violence-free schools, admits that a smile hasn’t left her face since she got the good news.

But does her song, “Dance Alone”, which isn’t the most sociable or uplifting of titles, bode well for a continued happy state, or will she end up a little less than ecstatic once the semi final 2 voting dust settles?

 

(photo courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
Gotta say the odds of her smiling like a super successful fiend are pretty good.

“Dance Alone” is a supremely catchy, perfect slice of pop that, while a little generic, nevertheless has enough of a Robyn vibe going on, such that she could very well find success, particularly if her “refined and sensitive stage performance” adds some extra atmosphere to the song.

In a sea of ballads and mid-tempo numbers, having a song with some danceability and personality is welcome, and you get the feeling, as you listen to Jana, that she has the vocal chops to elevate the song when it really matters.

Expect Jana to be dancing with more than a few others, come voting time, on her way to the grand final.

 

 

HUNGARY: “Origo” by Joci Pápai

 

 

THE ARTIST
Joci Pápai must be tired.

According to his Eurovision bio, he picked up a guitar at the age of 4 and hasn’t put it down since which is pretty impressive; after all, things may feel light at first but they usually end up getting heavier the longer you hold them.

When he’s not determinedly clutching musical instruments, Joci, whose dad was the leader of a big gypsy orchestra, he’s winningly blending electronica with Hungarian and gypsy sounds, creating a unique style of music that saw him make it big in 2005 when his first album spawned a number of chart-topping singles.

That success follows many years competing somewhat fruitlessly in talent shows and sees this highly-popular artist, the first gypsy to represent Hungary as he proudly proclaims, eager to make the most of his pan European exposure.

But will this “believer, fighter, singer, dreamer, father and Samurai” be able to make good on his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with his song “Origo”?

 

(photo courtesy eurovision.tv)

 

THE SONG
The song, which he says is “one hundred percent me”, is hauntingly beautiful, a wave of ethereal but richly substantial vocals that give way to some inspired violin playing.

In short, “Origo” has atmosphere in spades, neatly straddling east and west, modern and traditional, so compellingly that it’s hard not see this as a big crowd favourite in Kyiv.

Even his rap works in the bridge of the song, delivered with a passion and emotional resonance that can’t help but move you and get you dancing into the bargain.

“Origo” is different and eminently listenable and danceable and should see Hungary through to the grand final in fine showstopping style.

 

 

IRELAND: “Dying to Try” by Brendan Murray

 

 

THE ARTIST
Coming from a musical background is a big plus if you (a) want a burgeoning music career, which Brendan most certainly has with boyband Hometown, and (b) want to make your name at Eurovision, an arena in which Ireland has not exactly excelled in recent years.

That kind of pedigree also helps you get noticed by people who matter which is how he came to co-write Kelly Clarkson’s hit song “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” which was nominated for Song the Year and Record of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 2013.

And it’s no doubt why Brendan successfully taught himself guitar at the age of 13, and why leaving school at 16 to seek his fame and fortune singing his heart out has garnered such success.

But will it will be enough to send him catapulting into the grand final and give Ireland a shot at winning Eurovision, something it hasn’t managed since 1996?

 

(photo courtesy official Brendan Murray Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Honestly, while I admire Brendan’s earnestness that percolates through “Dying to Try” with the all the fervency of a melodramatic love affair, a reflection of its theme of taking a chance at love, the song doesn’t so much explode out of the box as meander sweetly through a field of flowers.

It’s a beautiful song in its own way, and actually benefits from his intense vocals, but it never really gets up a head of steam.

It will likely attract a lot of attention during the performance but disappear into the ether quickly thereafter.

Much as I would like Ireland to scale the dizzying heights of 1990s Eurovision success, I don’t see “Dying to try” being the song to make that happen.

 

 

ISRAEL: “I Feel Alive” by IMRI

 

 

THE ARTIST
Ladies and gentlemen, that man you see hurtling from the singing back blocks, where anonymity is a given and self-sacrifice is a damn near mandatory, is IMRI, who apart from leaping supporting status in a single bound, can sing, play the guitar and piano and make a mean batch of hummus.

Actually I have no idea about that last part, which is all hopeful conjecture on my part, but there’s no doubt that IMRI, who can sing in Spanish, Hebrew and English, and is, and here I become Captain Obvious, devastatingly handsome, has what it takes to make it in the musical world.

He won TV’s Rising Star singing competition this year, has sung in dozens across the globe and has even done voice over work in a number of animated series which is, I grant you, not a musical accomplishment as such, but pretty damn cool and worthy of note.

He is also obsessed with singing Queens’ “We Are the Champions” which he learnt at the astonishingly young of two to his family’s delight (although the fact that he used to sing it at “every possible occasion” means the family may no longer be so enamoured of the iconic song).

So IMRI has what it takes to make it big but can he make it big at Eurovision with “I Feel Alive”?

 

(photo by Ronen Akerman, courtesy official IMRI Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Hell to the yes is my considered opinion!

Weaving in what IMRI refers to as “an ethnic groove”, “I Feel Alive” is insanely, heartstoppingly catchy, building and building in a goosebumping way that will have the entire arena in Kyiv dancing their Eurovision-loving songs off.

It’s an of-the-moment dancefloor stomper that manages to escape the generic dance song curse, surging out of the gates with brio and a bristling sense of ecstatic joy, all anchored by IMRI’s more than up to the task, emotionally-evocative vocals.

If you’re not dancing to this five seconds in, and voting for it to go through to the grand final then you are dead in the soul, my friend, DEAD … IN … THE … SOUL.

 

 

LITHUANIA: “Rain of Revolution” by FusedMarc

 

 

THE ARTIST
It’s hard to say exactly where Lithuanian music was languishing prior to their emergence, but according to their Eurovision bio, FusedMarc (Cilia and Vakx) “raised the standard for Lithuanian music to a European level” when they appeared on the country’s music scene.

From that, you could well surmise that the band is possessed of such musical power that they have similarly affected the countries they have toured which include Germany, Great Britain, France, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic; but to be fair no one is venturing an opinion on that score.

That’s quite the musical revolution they have going on there, but given the number of awards they’ve received from Breakthrough of the Lithuanian Alternative Scene in 2005 to Best Experimental Music Band in 2007 – and don’t forget Best Lithuanian Electonic Band in 2008 – it’s say to say that the genre-melding band which formed in 2004, has had a considerable impact.

But can they, you ask in breathless anticipation, make their mark on Eurovision too?

 

(photo courtesy FusedMarc Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
Honestly once “Rain of Revolution” kicks off, quickly throwing everything from a driving beat, blissfully contorted vocals and a decidedly quirky melody into the mix, you have to be inclined to bow before them.

It’s not a perfect song with the bridge stumbling a little in both musical and vocal execution, but by and large, this song has some serious chutzpah, aided by Cilia’s energetic delivery, which while it might not be vocally always on point, never lacks for attitude, power or serious presence.

I’m not fully convinced it will send Lithuania careening into the grand final, missing just enough x factor to really be over the top memorable, but it’s bound to make for an impressive spectacle, which is after all, what Eurovision is all about (besides peace, humanity and cooperation, of course).

So while they may not reshape Europe as we know it musically, they’re going to make us sit up and take notice, which is close enough.

 

 

MALTA: “Breathlessly” by Claudia Faniello

 

 

THE ARTIST
Apparently dear Claudia has a million emotions crowded inside the all too finite area of her vocal chords.

You might think this a tad uncomfortable but the woman described as “a girl next door by day and glamorous diva by night with a passion for music and life”, no doubt is well used to taking it all in her stride.

It likely helps that the artist, who shot to prominence in 2006 when she came fourth on TV singing competition Hotspot, and who made her first bid for Eurovision and won the Festival Kanzunetta Indipendenza the following year, is a grounded person who works with kids who have intellectual, physical and behavioural difficulties and as a past Bulimia-sufferer, raises awareness of the disease with the public.

But can the lady who has watched her brother twice represent the country, and who has dreamed of being in this position since childhood, make all those emotions work her to make her dreams come true?

 

(photo courtesy official Claudia Faniello Facebook page)

 

THE SONG
It’s an even bet each way on “Breathlessly”, which is your big, ballsy torch song ballad anchored by Claudia’s voice which sounds like it could well accommodate the much-vaunted number of emotions.

It does venture into feel good mid-tempo territory from time to time, and you can’t help feeling you’re being a little emotionally manipulated at times; having said that, it’s a gorgeous song that resonates with some truly authentic power and passion, with Claudia making you believe she is living every intense emotion-charged moment.

So I’m torn – on one hand, the song is a rich, deeply emotional journey, but on the other, it feels a little too contrived, a little too ballad-by-numbers.

Not being emphatically one or the other means, like some other songs in the competition that it will come down to the performance on the night, and I have every reason to suspect that Claudia is more than capable of rising to the occasion.

 

Dust: The fear and bravery of humanity in the apocalypse

(image (c) Ember Lab)

 

SNAPSHOT
A deadly new plague linked to a mysterious dust is devastating the countryside around Kabé—the world’s oldest city.

Irezúmi, a Tracker living in the abandoned outskirts of Kabé, is hired by a Merchant of the city’s underground medicine trade to study the dust that has begun falling on the city. Unable to develop a cure for the unusual sickness, Irezumi reluctantly agrees to search for the source in the countryside.

Little is known about the Dust or the illness it causes, but as it continues to consume the countryside Kabé is preparing to shut its gates—denying refuge to anyone outside the walls.

With the city verging on lock-down, the two embark on a dangerous journey into the countryside in search of the source. (synopsis via official Dust Facebook page)

You have to admire the tenacity and creative fire of anyone who would close to 10 years of their life to creating a 25 minute sci-fi film.

That’s a long time to sustain a vision and keep the flame of creative passion alive but the team of filmmakers consisting of Jason Gallaty, Josh Grier and Mike Grier, using $100,000 in crowdfunding money and some epic filming throughout Japan throughout 2011, not only managed but created Dust, a spectacularly immersive short film that will have you mesmerised from start to finish.

 

 

Drawing on some familiar dystopian tropes, which they totally make their own, they have gives voice to some very modern issues such as sustainability, the future of our planet and how humanity will respond to our changing home.

While it is, in essence, a sci-fi film, it succeeds in bringing the humanity of its storyline to the fore with well-wrought characters, a taut narrative, brilliantly-succinct, evocative worldbuilding and an embedded message that never subsumes the story itself.

It’s very clever filmmaking on every level, and you can’t help but be moved by its elegant grace and simplicity, and its visual mix of the natural and CGI enhanced settings.

Dust has understandably been a great success at film festivals around the world, an epic story in small runtime that succeeds in getting us to think deeply about where we want to go as a society.

For the full story go to Vox.